For all DC foodies who crave exotic yet familiar eats, the Ottoman Taverna’s kitchen crew provide Turkish fare that will tempt every Western palate.
Located in the up and coming Mt. Vernon Square area, this opulent setting shows off what Byzantine and later Turkish nobility enjoyed as their home setting: splendid décor including a honeycombed-shaped dining area with a showcase kitchen, whiteish walls that bear Turkish and Christian murals, and even a backlit onyx bar top with the stone that was mined in Turkey.While it offers outdoor and private-room seating, the knowledgeable foodie will seek a table with a view to the open kitchen.
There Turkish native executive chef Ilhan Erkek, with an impressive four-star background (including a stint at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Istanbul where he won awards for his Turkish cooking) monitors the cookpots in the restaurant’s busy kitchen. Patrons who love this kind of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern fare will give thanks to the busy restaurant owner, Hakan Ilhan, himself a native of Turkey. Chances are that this familiar Ottoman setting satisfies his nostalgia for his native homeland.
Of course, the food certainly does. The menu is so extensive that those unfamiliar with some of the names and portion sizes of the offerings may be perplexed. But relax: very helpful staff are ready to answer all questions, especially pertaining to such unfamiliar fare as karisik meze tabagi, which turns out to be assorted small-portion tapas that might include tomato-stuffed eggplant, hummus, and fresh labneh yogurt with toasted walnuts and sprigs of mint.
For the ever-hungry, the menu offers a shorter selection of hot small plates, and among these a shrimp stew or the bulgur wheat patties stuffed with ground lamb and beef may grab one’s attention. But for the truly hungry, eyeing the main menu—lunch or dinner—will take all one’s attention. All this, while sipping such palate-teasing beverages as sparkling rosè wine from Ankara.
To round out the dinnertime feasting, be sure to order at least one of not several orders of their unique flatbreads made with flour imported from Turkey. Particularly unique are the flatbreads with goat cheese and the flatbread with lamb sausage. The breads themselves are so tender that you may wish to take home a bagful.
With the bread on hand, then ponder the other main course options, from assorted lamb and chicken kabobs to the mind- and stomach-blowing braised lamb shank. Even is lamb does not normally interest the average foodie, this slow-braised fork tender dish is so succulent that it would be a permanent, go-to order in future visits.
Also worthy is the Grand Mom’s ravioli stuffed with ground beef, an unexpected Italian-style dish for a Turkish restaurant plus a cauliflower stew and the very familiar eggplant-potato-ground beef dish called moussaka. With more than one people at the table, be sure to experiment with a variety of entrée offerings to get a complete idea of what the Taverna’s chef is up to.
The lunch menu is less formal, and includes assorted Turkish-inspired sandwiches, even something that sounds like a Turkish taco: ground beef and lamb wrapped in a Turkish “tortilla.” Its brunch menu consists of several traditional Turkish small plates, but the main course items, under the heading of “Breakfast in Istanbul,” includes what sounds somewhat Western: a frittata; fried eggs; scrambled eggs; and yogurt and honey with candied hazelnuts.
Regardless of your mealtime, do not skip any of the desserts. Not surprisingly, the baklava is stunning, but other sweets sound tempting, from the oven-baked rice pudding to something called “Noah’s pudding,” made with wheat grain, nuts, and dried fruits. Also do order a cup of Turkish coffee, strong enough to make your hair stand one end.
And in the end, you will exit Ottoman Taverna feeling as if you have been on a remarkable tour of Turkey. And you will never have set foot off the DC sidewalks to get there!
Ottoman Taverna Restaurant, 425 I St., NW, Washington, DC. Phone: 202-847-0395. Hours: Daily, 4 to 10 p.m
For more Washington DC dining and travel news, click here. Alexandra Greeley is the D.C. Restaurant Editor and a food writer for The Daily Meal.